Well, it was an improvement from the first debate.
Last night President Obama and Mitt Romney participated in their second presidential debate. They were asked about inequalities in pay for equal work, an issue central to the livelihood and well-being of millions of women, kids and families in this country (and which was left out of the first debate entirely), and … they answered. Sort of.
The President said that he understood this issue by explaining that he was raised by a single mother who hit the glass ceiling and then cited the first piece of legislation he signed into law, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which provides women with broader options for filing charges related to unfair pay than they had in the past.
Romney said that as governor of Massachusetts pulling together his cabinet in 2002, he noticed all the applicants were men. He then said he made efforts to seek out women.
"I went to a number of women's groups and said, 'Can you help us find folks,' and they brought us whole binders full of women," Romney said.
Before the debate was over, there was a blog, a series of memes, a Facebook page with over 100,000 fans and a Twitter hash tag, all mocking the concept of binders full of women.
“If you like it then you should put three rings on it.”
“There are going to be #bindersfullofwomen voting for Obama on Nov. 6.”
“Match.com: We’ve got #bindersfullofwomen for you.”
That wasn’t all Romney said that angered women’s organizations, many voters, and me. He also mentioned that he allowed an employee (a victim of the binders?) to head home at a decent hour in order to be with her children and make dinner.
Ah, the allowances that must be made for those demanding little mothers …
What question exactly was all this in response to?
The attendee, one of several who were enlisted to ask questions of the candidates during the town-hall-style debate, asked:
“In what new ways do you intend to rectify the inequalities in the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn?"
I’m not quite sure what these special binders of women have to do with gender inequalities in pay for equal work, nor am I sure how allowing a female staff member to leave the office before 7 or 8 p.m. so she could make dinner addresses the very real and very entrenched societal and economic realities of pay inequality.
In fact, Romney’s comment about letting his female employee go home early seems to rear yet again an ugly misconception that millions of women deal with every day: In order to be worthy of jobs that offer a sane balance between work and personal life (so they can get home to their diapers and casseroles), women are going to need to just accept less money than their male counterparts, who can presumably stay at the office all night if need be.
I’m so damn sick of this! (Can I say that?!)
I don’t want to be some page in a human resources binder, a field to check off so that a prospective employer can ensure the appearance of balance and fairness but skirt the commitment and investment it will take to achieve real fairness in this country.
I want real workplace equality. Real policy equality. I want women to be paid — gasp — the same as men.
Yet American women who work full time, year round are paid only 77 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts, according to the National Women’s Law Center. This gap translates into $10,784 less per year in median earnings, leaving women and their families shortchanged. That money translates to food for some families who do not have enough. It translates to college savings for those who can’t. And the wage gap is even more substantial when race and gender are considered together, with African-American women making only 62 cents, and Hispanic women only 54 cents, for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men.
Of course some women are doing better than this. Someone, somewhere, has luckily achieved gender pay parity.
But as a society we’re so, so far from where we need to be. On this, gender pay equality. On paid parental leave (The U.S is one of only 4 countries that doesn't offer paid leave to new mothers. The others are Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and Lesotho). On paid sick days and family friendly work policies.
All these rights contribute to a healthier work force and ultimately a stronger economy. Yet they evade us still.
Despite all this, though, I have to thank Mitt Romney. Mothers across the country were hoping that some of these issues would be debated last night, that the topics critical to our health and survival would get just a fraction of the attention they deserve, a sliver of light shined on them.
But with his “binders of women” Romney unexpectedly brought out a big ‘ol searchlight. He brought a whole hunting party. Last night hundreds of thousands of Americans were “Liking,” texting and Tweeting about fair pay for women, and essentially about how women are treated and regarded in our society.
When was the last time these issues captured our culture’s fickle attention? I can’t think of when.
Let’s keep them in the spotlight.
In between school drop-offs and coffee binges, Natalie Singer-Velush is ParentMap’s Web Editor. In her former life she wrote for newspapers and once pumped milk in the bathroom of the King County Superior Courthouse while covering a murder trial. She was also once chased by rabid raccoons. Natalie lives in Seattle with her husband and two school-aged daughters, whom she prays will one day earn the same wage as the little boys they now go to school with.